Georgia’s New Voting Law — Myths And Facts

(Photo by VIRGINIE KIPPELEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Brianna Lyman News and Commentary Writer
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Georgia passed a series of new voting laws aimed to curb alleged voter fraud and myths about voter disenfranchisement and discrimination are running rampant.

“The Election Integrity Act of 2021” expands in-person early voting dates and hours for most counties, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting. The original drafts of the legislation would have scrapped all weekend voting aside from the second Saturday, but changes were made to now allow both Saturdays of the early voting period to hold voting and gives counties the options to hold voting on Sundays, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The legislation also requires three weeks of early voting and expands the hours the polls are open. The changes were made in response to opposition from racial justice groups who said the proposal targeted black voters who traditionally participate in “Souls to the Polls” voter drives that take place on Sundays, according to NPR.

Myth: Voters Won’t Have Access To Water While They Wait In Line

One of the provisions bans volunteers from handing out food, water or other items to voters standing in line. (RELATED: ‘Racist Voter Suppression’: Civil Rights Group Calls For Masters Tournament To Boycott Georgia Over Voting Bill)

Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Andrea Young criticized the law, including this specific provision.

“Senate Bill 202 is an anti-voter bill that attacks absentee voting, criminalizes giving Georgians a drink of water to their neighbors, allows state takeover of county elections, and retaliates against the elected Secretary of State by replacing him with a State Board of Elections Chair chosen by the legislature – not the voters.”

President Joe Biden also criticized the provision, according to The Hill.

“If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they passed a law saying you can’t provide water to people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote?” Biden reportedly said.

“You don’t need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting. You can’t provide water for people about to vote. Give me a break.”

Fact: Voters Will Still Have Access To Water & Are Not Forbidden From Bringing Their Own Food Items

“No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector,” the law reads.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said in December that the state would crack down on “line warming” which includes giving voters gifts of any kind to “inappropriately influence voters in the crucial final moments before they cast their ballots.”

The law, however, still allows voters to have access to water, despite claims to the contrary.

“This Code section shall not be construed to prohibit a poll officer from distributing… or from 1828 making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in 1829 line to vote.”

Myth: The Election Laws Facilitate “Voter Suppression”

Another provision Democrats are criticizing is the provision requiring voters show an ID to get an absentee ballot.

An op-ed written by Teri Kanefield calls the new law “Jim Crow.”

Kanefield acknowledges the law expands voter access but then says requiring voters to show an ID presents “unnecessary hurdles.”

Biden also criticized this provision, saying these were “rigid restrictions.”

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 03: Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia Capitol building, to oppose the HB 531 bill on March 3, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.HB 531 will add controversial voting restrictions to the state's upcoming elections including restricting ballot drop boxes, requiring an ID requirement for absentee voting and limiting weekend early voting days. The Georgia House passed the bill and will send it to the Senate. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GA – MARCH 03: Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia Capitol building, to oppose the HB 531 bill on March 3, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

“This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” Biden said in a statement. “It must end. We have a moral and Constitutional obligation to act.”

Fact: Voter ID Laws Are Found In More Than Half Of U.S. States

Residents can receive a free ID Card from the state at any county registrar’s office with proper proof of residency and other documentation.

Out of Georgia’s near 11 million population, approximately 200,000 Georgian’s lack a drivers license or state identification card, according to CNN. That is less than 2% of the state’s population. AJC reports 97% of registered Georgia voters have an official driver’s license or state ID.

For the some 200,000 residents who don’t have identification, Georgia residents can receive a Georgia ID card which has no age restriction. Applicants have to fill out the required forms to receive an ID. Applicants must also provide proof of residency, their social security number and proof of citizenship. Utility bills, phone bills and a birth certificate are just some of the ways residents can prove they are Georgia residents.

Voters will be required to request and return an absentee ballot with an ID, be it either a driver’s license or state ID number. Voters can also verify their ballot with the last four digits of their social security number. Votes can be returned online through an online request portal so long as a voter has their driver’s license number or state ID number, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Voter identification laws are not uncommon and at least 35 states require voters to show or present some form of ID when voting, whether it be by mail or in person. Georgia already has voter ID laws in place for in person voting.

Myth: The New Law “Ends Voting Hours Early”

Biden claimed he was “worried” about how “un-American this whole initiative is.”

“It’s sick. It’s sick. Deciding that you’re going to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work.”

Biden reiterated a similar sentiment in a written statement the following day.

“Among the outrageous parts of this new state law, it ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.”

Fact: Voting Access Has Not Been Reduced

The Washington Post gave Biden’s claims a whopping four Pinocchios.

“One could understand a flub in a news conference. But then this same claim popped up in an official presidential statement,” Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote. “Not a single expert we consulted who has studied the law understood why Biden made this claim, as this was the section of the law that expanded voting for many Georgians.”

The new voting law still permits polling places to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and as long as you are in line by 7 p.m. then you can still vote, the Post confirmed.

“You can criticize the bill for many things, but I don’t think you can criticize it for reducing the hours you can vote,” University of Georgia political scientist Charles S. Bullock III said, according to the report. Bullock suspected Biden was briefed on an early draft of the version and was not updated on the final version.

Early voting access would be expanded for most counties and would add an additional mandatory Saturday, Georgia Public Broadcasting said. Counties can also have early voting open as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 7 p.m., according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The Post surmises Biden may have erred because the old law said “voting shall be conducted during normal business hours,” according to the Post. The new version specifically says “beginning at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m.”

An election official said the formal change was made because some rural county election offices operated on a part-time basis rather than a standard 8-hour day, so the language just specified the hours, according to the report.